The Taiwan Tourism Bureau has been taking a fair bit of flak on social media of late and it seemed only fair to try and put these criticisms into context a little bit.
Blog posts such as this one, entitled "Something Very Wrong Is Happening at Taiwan Tourism Board" have fueled this thinking, and while some of the criticisms being leveled are valid, others are, in my view, a little excessive.
One critical blog post
Let’s take a quick look at this blog post as an example. It begins with a long list of example social media posts from Twitter feeds linked to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. The complaints are a little bit meandering but range from inappropriate content to typos, and what the blog claims is misguided content. It ends with the blogger bemoaning the fact that one of the feeds she has been critical of decided to block her.
There are a few points to make about this type of criticism. Firstly, I would question whether it is really proportionate to argue that a few typos on tweets are enough evidence to make systemic criticisms of an entire organization, as she goes on to do. The blogger herself makes just such a mistake when she repeatedly talks about the Taiwan Tourism Board rather than their correct name, the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.
Are these small errors careless? Yes. Should government-linked Twitter accounts be making such errors? No. Are they endemic of broader systemic issues within the Taiwan Tourism Bureau? No, of course not.
All these errors prove is that whoever is running these accounts is probably not a native English speaker and is also probably overworked. Speaking as someone who spent many years working in a PR firm doing just such jobs, I have a considerable amount of sympathy.
And that is the other important point. As this blog author readily admits, these accounts are not directly run by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau themselves, but the various agencies around the world that they hire for just this job.
In this particular blog post, the author then tries to question how these agencies are appointed. The clear implication being involved is that the process is, at best lacking in transparency and at worst openly corrupt. Without digging further, I would not want to address that claim, but certainly the blog post fails to offer any concrete evidence to support such a claim.
The biggest criticism that can leveled at the Taiwan Tourism Bureau over this is that they should be a bit more open and selective over which agencies they choose to work with and how the success of campaigns is measured. They could perhaps also stress a little more the importance of accurate content for any agencies they work with.
How important is social media to the Taiwan Tourism Agency?
Another important point to remember is that social media is not the be all and end all of marketing. For those on Twitter, it is far too easy to get sucked into the notion that what happens on Twitter matters. It really does not. People make mistakes all the time on Twitter, they get a bit of flak and then the hoarded masses move on to their next target.
A perfect example of the corporate importance of social media has been seen only this week in the UK, where popular pup chain Wetherspoons has taken the decision to close all of its social media accounts. Their Chairman, Tim Martin, was robust in his statement explaining why.
"I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever, and this is the overwhelming view of our pub managers." He went on to describe social media as "a distraction" for the business and "a waste of time."
The only real criticism that has been leveled at Wetherspoons came from the marketing industry that has such a vested interest in social media strategies while a number of other British companies are expected to follow suit.
So, it is vital to keep the issue of a few typos and misguided Twitter posts in context with the broader achievements of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.
The tourism sector has been put under pressure in Taiwan by the Chinese Communist party choosing to use it as a platform to play politics and restricting the number of Chinese people who are allowed to visit Taiwan.
It also faces challenges from its geographic location too. If you take China out of the equation, Taiwan is a good few hours flying time from just about everywhere else. That means that budget airlines tickets to come here are not as cheap as they are to some other regional destinations.
But despite these challenges, tourism numbers in Taiwan continue to rise. The number of visitors to Taiwan surpassed 10 million once again last year and the target for 2018 is to see 10.86 million arriving this year. This would be an increase of 9% and is viewed by sector experts as eminently achievable.
How has this been achieved in the face of declining visitor numbers from China? The Taiwan Tourism Bureau has to be given its fair share of the credit. They have effectively taken advantage of the government’s Southbound Policy to attract a big increase in tourists from Taiwan’s Southeast Asian neighbors.
The growth rate in visitor numbers from Southeast Asia was 30% higher in 2017 than it was the previous year, while South Korean visitors exceeded 1 million for the first time. One important point to note about these countries is that English is not the first language in any of them, so inaccurate English Twitter feeds are unlikely to have much of an effect.
The Taiwan Tourism Bureau has also delivered a number of focused campaigns which has delivered notable increases in both tourism numbers and awareness of Taiwan as a potential destination. This has included big pushes for things like cycle tourism and marine ecology tourism, while the latest "Year of Bay" campaign is already thought to be seeing an increasing number of visitors to Taiwan’s outlying islands.
There has also been a number of direct flights to Taipei from big cities around the world added in recent times. This includes China Airlines routes to Ontario, California and London, Air New Zealand’s direct flight to Auckland, and the new opening of an Air France route from Paris.
And make no mistake, Taiwan’s tourism campaigns are having an impact in these cities and other major urban centers around the world too.
Take London as an example. I visited there recently, and it cannot have been more than 15 minutes before I saw an advert for Taiwan on the side of a bus. They are also all over the tube network and on many taxi cabs too. This push is most likely to try and capitalize on the new direct routes between London and Taipei. But it is not a new thing. Taiwan posters have been plastered across the London public transport network for a number of years now.
So, before we try and land a blow to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau for a few unimpressive tweets that have gone out in their name, let’s get a bit of perspective. Taiwan’s tourism sector continues to grow despite the various challenges it faces. And, regardless of a few dud tweets, that is in no small part down to the efforts of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.